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Memento Mori

Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter“‘Bombs bursting in air’ must be music to the ears of Armor Holdings,” crows Hoover’s Online Business Network profile of the Florida-based security outfit. And so it is: A.H., which makes flak vests, tear gas, distraction grenades and other gear for corporate and government clients, as well as offering consulting and investigation services, was one of Wall Street’s big “victors” when the stock market reopened for business Monday. While the collapse of the World Trade Center towers is creating an economic domino effect among airlines, insurance companies and tourist boards, a list of winners is emerging from the rubble, including some companies whose stock value had more than doubled by Monday’s closing bell on a day that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffer its largest single-day loss in history. Here are some of the industries bound to be invigorated by the blackest Black Tuesday.

 

 

Defense Contractors Although it’s too early to discern the emergence of a new, post-disaster economy, anything connected with the Bush-proposed Missile Defense System has been upticking like a Geiger counter pointed at a Russian sub. At least in the short term, the leaders have names like Lockheed Martin (which closed Monday up 14.69 percent), L3 Communications Holdings Inc. (+38.1), Raytheon (+26.76) and Northrop-Grumman (+15.69).

 

ID-Recognition Firms InVision Technologies, which makes bomb scanners, was up a dizzying 165.27 percent, followed by face-recognition companies Viisage Technology Inc. (+142.27) and Visionics (+93.21), with Identix Inc. (+71.43) leaving its mark on the fingerprinting market.

 

Surveillance and Security Firms Joining A.H., which closed up 39 percent, were the Israeli-based firm Magal Security (+66.33), which specializes in “perimeter security” and motion detection, and Wackenhut Corp. (+26.65), whose bread and butter is pre-departure screening at more than 50 U.S. airports. Security and defense contractors weren’t the only outfits profiting from the September 11 tragedy. With all airline flights canceled that day, the savvy Sheraton JFK Airport Hotel doubled its room rates and individual gas stations from New York to Illinois sold fuel at $5 per gallon. In fact, some of these adventures in capitalism have revealed the morbid tenacity of the American entrepreneurial spirit. Within hours of the jetliner Götterdämmerung, individual looters posing as would-be rescuers were being apprehended at the World Trade Center site, and eBay, the online auction service, was forced to halt the sale of WTC rubble fragments that began to pour into its bidding network.

Electronic scams quickly proliferated. One telemarketing firm began calling senior citizens to solicit donations for “disaster relief,” with at least two bogus Web sites that offered to pass along money to the Red Cross. Meanwhile, a skin-pic outfit graciously offered this comfort: “No terrorists here! Join our porn site, turn off the TV, quit watching the crap happening in the states, and join our free site!” In one of the more bizarre incidents, the Fox News cable channel ran a ticker-tape phone number for “National Mental Health Assistance”; when dialed, callers were connected to the Hollywood headquarters of the Church of Scientology.

Much of the moneymaking was benignly smalltime, as in the case of East Coast drugstores that quikly sold out of their stocks of WTC post cards. And, in a country as steeped in both patriotism and souvenir collecting as ours, Old Glory and T-shirts not surprisingly became the two most immediate and accessible ways for Americans to express their feelings. Many stores ran out of flags — a cashier at the Hollywood OSH said she wished the store had more to sell, and that employees had to keep an eye on the one fluttering above the front entrance in case it got taken. Outside, flag and T-shirt vendors had set up shop at Sunset and Western, using OSH’s stone retaining wall as a display area.

There were no flag shortages downtown: Men working out of a VW van parked at Olympic and Los Angeles offered motorists a large selection of the Stars and Stripes. A cursory survey of nearby Santee Alley, the heart of the city’s retail garment district, showed that four days after the hijackings, flags and T-shirts were in abundance while commemorative trinkets — posters, videos, plates — had yet to appear.

Five dollars is the prix fixe of most of the blouses and gadgets that are hoarsely hawked directly in front of Santee Alley’s shops, and last weekend it was enough to buy you an Old Glory bandanna that sported a rhinestone-formed star. A large (about 20-inch-by-10-inch) plastic American flag went for $4, although some vendors quickly dropped a buck if you passed on it. One woman displayed desk-set-size flags by sticking them in a head of lettuce, and sold them for $3 each.

All the disaster T-shirts seemed hastily made — some were just a cut above ironed-on decals, none were silk-screened, and all had been applied to large-size white shirts. Two stuck out: one featuring an American flag and, in the background, a cartoon of the twin towers, with the legend “God Bless America.” Another displayed a black-and-white version of Tom Franklin’s photo of the three NYC firemen raising the flag over the WTC debris, with the words “We Will Be More Strongly United” — and the flag colorized.

One man selling the twin-towers shirts said this to a query about their origin: “I don’t know. Somewhere.”

When asked if the Red Cross was receiving any portion of the profits from the fireman tees (with their copyrighted image), another vendor replied laconically, “Sure, why not? I gave blood, though.”